Traffic collisions occur across Florida and throughout the nation for a wide array of reasons, but some things lead to accidents more often than others. Federal and state agencies, departments, and organizations that collect data on collisions examine causes for collisions to aid in accident prevention. Speeding tops the list for the most frequent cause of fatal crashes, accounting for more than 15 percent of fatal crashes across the U.S. each year. Among all other types of non-fatal crashes, including those where injuries have occurred and those that involve only property damage, distracted driving is the most common cause of collisions.
National trends demonstrating that speeding and distracted driving are the top causes of fatal and non-fatal accidents also ring true on Florida’s roads and highways. The most recent crash data from Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reveals that speeding resulted in 426 fatal crashes in 2017, while distracted drivers caused 234 fatal crashes. Among non-fatal crashes on Florida roads in 2017, distracted driving led to almost 270,000, including about 3,100 that resulted in incapacitating injuries. Speeding caused about 73,000 non-fatal collisions on Florida’s roads in 2017, some of which led to 1,350 incapacitating injuries.
Below we examine speeding and distracted driving as the most common causes of collisions. Continue reading to learn about factors that lead to speeding, as well as common distractions, the laws and penalties associated with each driver behavior, and ways to prevent yourself from being the perpetrator or the victim of these types of collisions.
Speeding Violations in Florida
Florida has two tiers of speeding laws: a basic speeding law, which applies to drivers who are traveling too fast for conditions; and laws that forbid traveling over the posted speed limit. Florida’s basic speeding law states: “No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.”
This broad law gives police officers the discretion to issue a speeding ticket in any situation when they feel a driver is going faster than they should be given the situation. In fact, the law specifically outlines situations where drivers should drive slower than the posted speed limit:
- When approaching and crossing an intersection or railway crossing
- When approaching and traveling around a curve
- When approaching the top of a hill
- When driving on a narrow or winding road
- When encountering pedestrian or other traffic
- When weather or road conditions require
The second type of speeding laws in Florida prohibits traveling over the posted speed limit. Fines for speeding in Florida vary based on the situation. Like other states, Florida penalizes those who speed in construction zones by doubling the fine. Similarly, those who travel 21 miles per hour or more over the speed limit face harsher fines, and Florida punishes those who go 50 miles per hour or more over the speed limit more harshly, too.
Depending on the situation, law enforcement might issue a citation for careless driving when someone is speeding. When a driver commits a second traffic violation in addition to speeding, they also risk being cited for aggressive or careless driving. When speeding leads to an accident resulting in property damage or physical harm, fines also increase. Those who cause a fatality when speeding might also face criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter.
Why Do People Speed?
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has spent considerable time and resources studying the behaviors associated with speeding. They have identified four risk factors which are often correlated with speeding. They are:
- Traffic congestion. Drivers who tend to engage in aggressive driving behaviors like speeding often do so when they are delayed by heavy traffic.
- Lateness. Drivers with demanding schedules might find themselves racing between obligations and appointments. Some people are habitually late to work, school, appointments, events, etc. In either case, some drivers who are running late try to make up time by speeding.
- Anonymity. Some drivers feel detached from the outside world when they are inside their car. This gives them a feeling of freedom from conforming to social norms like following traffic laws. These drivers speed because they feel they can and they have no concern about others witnessing their behavior who they will likely never see again.
- Disregard for the law and others. Some people who speed do so because it is their usual driving behavior. They generally don’t consider whether this habit might cause an accident that results in harm or death to others.
Why Does Speeding Cause More Fatal Crashes?
Simple physics explains why speeding is the most fatal of all collision causes. One of the first formulas we learn in grade-school science is Force = Mass x Acceleration. Accidents that have the most force upon impact involve either incredible mass or fast acceleration. When a driver travels faster than others on the road, they increase the acceleration piece of the formula, creating more force upon impact.
The most dangerous combination occurs when heavy trucks, which can weigh 20 to 30 times more than the average car, are speeding down the highway. When a speeding truck causes an accident, those who are in smaller vehicles are lucky if they survive.
Aside from increased severity of accidents, the NHTSA warns of several other consequences for speeding. They include:
- High speed makes it difficult to control a vehicle, making it more likely for a driver to lose control after encountering a road hazard or critical situation.
- Even when drivers see a road hazard, they need a much longer stopping distance to avoid it if they are speeding.
- Speeding reduces the effectiveness of safety equipment such as seat belts and airbags.
- Speed-related crashes can have huge economic implications for their victims in the form of large medical bills, property damage, and lost wages.
Distracted Driving in Florida
According to the FLHSMV, distracted driving is “anything that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, or your mind off driving.” Using a cell phone for chatting or texting while driving often comes to mind as the most frequent form of distraction. Yet, distracted driving was a problem long before cell phones were invented. Several types of distractions might lead to a traffic collision; the FLHSMV categorizes them as visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Texting requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention, which makes it one of the most dangerous driver distractions.
Commercial truck drivers in Florida and across the nation have had to comply with a ban on all manual cell phone use for years; they must use a hands-free feature or device and can only push one button to initiate a call. Texting used to be a secondary offense in Florida, meaning law enforcement could issue you a citation for texting and driving, but they could not pull you over for it. As of July 2019, texting and driving is a primary offense for which law enforcement can now pull you over.
Aside from texting, the FLHSMV warns of other bad habits and distractions that can lead to traffic collisions. They include:
- Drinking and eating in a vehicle
- Tending to passengers in the backseat, especially children
- Watching an event outside of the vehicle, such as a traffic accident
- Talking and interacting with passengers, which is especially dangerous for Uber and Lyft drivers
- Personal grooming activities such as putting on makeup, fixing hair, etc.
- Adjusting climate controls, the radio, and other vehicle features or programming a GPS
Drivers need to give their full attention to the road to avoid accidents. This allows them to see potential hazards and react to them quickly. Distracted drivers don’t have time to process driving hazards and react appropriately, often leading to severe accidents.
Penalties for Distracted Drivers in Florida
Penalties for distracted driving in Florida are not that harsh, but they do increase with repeat offenses. Penalties are as follows:
- First offense. First-time distracted driving offenders face a $30 base fine plus court costs and fees. This is a non-moving traffic violation and the driver will not have any points assessed against their driver’s license.
- Second offense. If a driver is convicted of a second distracted driving offense within five years of the first, they face a $60 base fine plus court costs and fees. Three points are also assessed against the driver’s record.
- Work zones and school zones. Any driving-related offense committed in a school or work zone is a moving violation carrying a $60 base fine plus court costs and fees and a three point penalty against the driver’s Florida license.
Preventing Collisions Caused by Speeding and Distractions
Of course, you can avoid being the perpetrator of speeding-related or distracted driving crashes by not speeding or driving while distracted, but you cannot control other drivers’ actions. So, what can you do to avoid careless, distracted drivers and those with a lead foot? Here are some tips:
- If you are on a two-lane road and a driver behind you is speeding and tailgating you, move to the shoulder and let them pass.
- Only use the left lane on interstates and highways for passing. This is the law in most states. Regardless, it allows those who are speeding to easily pass you and helps you potentially avoid an accident.
- Remember that those who speed can more easily lose control of their vehicle, so give them plenty of space. If they lose control, you want to be out of the danger zone of any accident.
- The best way to avoid a collision caused by a distracted driver is to avoid distracted drivers on the road, but this is easier said than done. If you notice someone on their cell phone, reaching in their back seat, or appearing distracted in any way, let them pass or pass them. Whatever you do, put as much distance between them and you as possible.
- Teen drivers are especially prone to distraction. Set a good example for your teen and talk to them about the dangers of distracted driving.
- Educators and employers can also spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving.
What Should You Do After a Speed- or Distraction-Related Accident?
If you are involved in a traffic collision, you might not be sure of the steps to take, especially when you are certain the other driver is at fault for speeding or distracted driving. Here are some of the immediate steps you can take to help maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome for your claim:
- Call 911. Make your health and safety, and those of anyone else in the accident, your top priority. If you suspect that the accident caused an injury or fatality, and you are physically able, call 911 to ensure that an emergency response team comes to the scene of the accident as soon as possible. Even if you feel okay, make sure to get checked out by a physician after the accident. Some injuries don’t show symptoms for hours or even days.
- Gather information. Get the makes, models, and license plate info from each vehicle involved in the accident. Also, get the driver’s contact information and insurance information. You will have to file a claim with your own Florida insurance carrier, but severe accidents typically meet and exceed personal insurance limits quickly. Take photos of any property damage, visible evidence of distractions, visible injuries, and any other information you think your insurance company or lawyer might find helpful.
- Consult a personal injury attorney. If you have sustained serious injuries in a traffic collision as a result of a careless driver who was distracted or speeding, Florida law entitles you to sue for damages. A skilled attorney can investigate your accident to build a solid case against the defense. This might include finding the at-fault driver’s driving history and/or getting cell phone records or other evidence to support your case. An attorney can also lead you through the lawsuit process while you focus on recovering from your injuries.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Clearwater Office
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900